Town nixes credit idea for transformer boxes
The town has discarded the idea of discounting property assessments whenever electrical transformer boxes are placed on private properties as part of a townwide conversion to underground utilities.
Most property owners won’t have the metal transformer boxes on their properties. Councilwoman Julie Araskog suggested the discount because of the negative aesthetic impact to owners who will have them.
But the other council members were opposed after Town Manager Tom Bradford said adding a credit for the boxes into the assessment formula would be a time-consuming and costly process, and that the amount of the credit would likely be a few dollars a year for each affected property owner.
Property owners will be assessed over 30 years to repay bonds to finance the project, and each owner’s assessment is based on a formula that accounts for the safety, reliability and aesthetic benefits of replacing the overhead utilities with an underground system.
If the council had approved the credit, then property owners who didn’t have boxes would have faced a little more on their assessments to make up the difference, Bradford said.
Pursuing FPL discounts
The council told Bradford last week to work with the town’s utilities attorney, Robert “Schef” Wright, to pursue up to $6 million in discounts, agreed to by Florida Power & Light Co., toward the cost of burying all power lines on the island.
The discounts would be in addition to the 25 percent discount FPL provides toward the amount municipalities pay the company for the equipment that makes up a new underground power system. That discount is required by the Florida Public Service Commission because underground systems are less costly to maintain than overhead systems, Bradford said.
The additional credits are tied to savings FPL would realize by not having to install storm-hardened poles and wires along main power “feeder” lines in town if the town builds an underground system. FPL has said it thinks Public Service Commission approval would be needed before it can provide the credits; Bradford said the town thinks it is unnecessary.
The council told Bradford to continue to seek additional savings that FPL has so far not agreed to, and to pursue the credits it has agreed to.
‘Yes’ to new wireless regulations
The council agreed to hire Boca Raton attorney Gary Resnick, for $300 an hour, to draft regulations governing the placement of wireless communications equipment on public property or within public rights of way. Resnick is recognized as an expert in the field and has been retained through the town’s legal firm, Jones Foster Johnston & Stubbs, Town Attorney John Randolph said.
In April, the council declared a 180-day moratorium on applications to place wireless equipment on public property and in public rights-ofway until it could draft and pass an ordinance to properly regulate it. The ban was enacted in the face of proposed state legislation severely limiting local governments’ ability to prevent or regulate the placement of 5G wireless equipment. The town, however, is among some coastal communities who were given an exemption from the law, which passed the legislature and awaits Gov. Rick Scott’s signature.
Bradford and Town Councilwoman Bobbie Lindsay said the undergrounding project presents an opportunity to lay additional conduit to take advantage of future communications technology, including 5G wireless, remote control of municipal operations and self-driving cars, while also minimizing aboveground facilities.
The conduit also could be a moneymaker for the town, which could lease it for use by communications companies, Bradford and Town Councilwoman Julie Araskog said.
The additional conduit was originally in the undergrounding plan, but was removed to cut costs. Bradford said that was a mistake, and that he will determine the cost of adding it back in — either as a “backbone” system along main roads, or extending it into neighborhoods.
If we don’t put this back in, it’s penny-wise and pound-foolish,” Lindsay said.
In other action, the council chose Nicki McDonald to fill the Underground Utilities Task Force seat vacated by Wilbur Ross, who left in December to become President Donald Trump’s commerce secretary. McDonald is president of the board of the Lake Towers condominium building, which buried its utility lines last year. She has a business background.